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Working on a theory but finding out it's already discovered

  1. Mar 18, 2015 #1
    Working on a theory and then finding out it's already been discovered, however I managed to come to the same conclusion. Should I feel happy or sad about this??
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 18, 2015 #2
    I'm should be happy because it means that you get already a scientific thought,, a physic intuition, a logic mind.
  4. Mar 18, 2015 #3
    You should feel both happy and sad. Happy because your idea and intuition were good and you managed to arrive at a conclusion, and sad because this work has already been done before. First check whether the other work was performed more or less at the same time, then you can publish it. In the case that the result has been published long time ago, then next time before you start working on an idea do an exhaustive search of the already published results.
  5. Mar 18, 2015 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

  6. Mar 18, 2015 #5


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    I will question you on whether you did any kind of exhaustive search FIRST before attempting to reinvent the wheel.

    I'm in the middle of working on something which, to be best of our knowledge, hasn't been done. We were trying to grow a semiconductor photocathode on top of a known, conventional superconductor as a substrate. While this semiconductor has been grown already (even by us), and it well-known, it has never been grown on a superconductor like this. At least, that was what we thought at that time based on our experience and knowledge of the state of the art in this field.

    But still, before we embarked on this project and before spending large amount of money equipment/supplies and manpower, several of us did an extensive search on whether this has been done before. In fact, one of the first task I gave one of my graduate student was to do just that. We even contacted other groups that we know can also grow this photocathode to see if they had ever made such attempts at this type of growth.

    We found none, and only then can we justify spending our resources on doing this.

    If you are doing this just for "fun", then I'd say there's no harm done other than some wasted time. However, if you are doing this as part of your research work, or part of what you've been paid to do, then if I'm your supervisor, I will not be pleased that you had wasted your time doing something that someone else had done already, and that you did not do any kind of background research first. It will also give me extra work, because the next time you produce something that you claim to be "new", *I* will have to do my own legwork because I will not completely trust that claim.

  7. Mar 18, 2015 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    This issue often comes up during inventions and patents. You have a great idea and everyone feels its novel and unique and no one has seen it before. It teaches you something new. A detailed search is conducted and while it wasn't used in your field, the same idea came up in a different context either as an invention, a patent or simply a published description of the idea.

    Our patent chairman would often say these encouraging words: "Its a great idea, but like most great ideas someone has come up with it before." and so you'd leave the room thinking wow I had a great idea and now I'm thinking like an inventor.

    What do you do?

    Some folks will fold and some will study the existing idea and improve upon it.

    Eventually you may come up with a truly original idea that is novel, useful and unique and then you'll be truly happy as you're the first to come with it.

    Just remember we all stand of the shoulders of giants and the fact that we've come up with something new and unique means we on the verge of becoming one of those giants.
  8. Mar 20, 2015 #7


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    You should be ecstatic. There's no reason to dwell on the fact that someone else has done it before. Most likely, this just means you failed in your literature review, which is not difficult. It's easy to say, "Read the literature exhaustively," but it's much harder to figure out how much time it's actually appropriate to spend on this task, and how deep to go into the myriad of side issues which inevitably develop.

    My view on it is as follows. Do your best with the literature review, and when you fail (by doing something "new" that's not actually new), be easy on yourself. You're not going to do a perfect trawl of the literature until you've worked out how to do one, in a way that suits your needs and skills. There's only one way to master that review, and that's the repeated type of failure you've mentioned. Sometimes you'll get lucky, and you'll be able to comprehend the literature before embarking on a Herculean effort. It is not surprising however, that the understanding of another's work, might come only through you reinventing it. Without a teacher to put your field into a digestible perspective for you, there's no other way.

    So it's a mixed bag. You spent a lot of time on something which is not new. You did NOT waste time. Most importantly, you gained confidence in your understanding. It's like you've done a homework problem, only much more impressive, because you had no guarantees it would be soluble with respect to your toolkit. What needs work is your approach to reading the literature you don't yet fully grasp, but you're certainly not alone there (that's everyone to some degree).
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